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Analyzing Blackmail Being Illegal

Highlights from the Blackmail Debate (Robin Hanson vs Zvi Mowshowitz) by Ben Pace:

Here's my overview of their positions.

  • Zvi thinks that blackmail would incentivize a whole host of terrible actions, such as trying to trick people into norm violation, and people becoming intensely secretive even around their closest friends and family.
  • Robin thinks that blackmail is a weird rule, where you cannot ask for money to keep a secret, but the other person is allowed to offer it (e.g. people can offer you money if you sign an NDAs). This makes no sense and Robin is looking for any clear reason why making one side of this deal should be illegal.

Thoughts Before Reading More of the Post

there are practical problems. e.g. blackmailers may make additional demands later, and it’s hard to hold them to the original deal b/c if you bring up the deal for enforcement then your secret comes out

and ppl actively trying to get blackmail material is a problem, as Zvi says

NDAs are done preemptively which is different. you ask someone to agree to keep X secret as a condition of sharing X with him.

blackmail is someone who already knows X in advance and is now negotiating for potential secrecy.

NDAs are commonly signed with no payment, or at least no direct payment for them (required with employment)

ppl sign NDAs b/c they want access to the info b/c they have an actual productive purpose for using that info themselves – often a business purpose like providing consulting advice about it or developing software related to it.

blackmailers commonly have no productive uses of the info.
their choices are roughly do nothing or hurt someone.

in cases where the blackmailer got the info legally and it isn’t e.g. copyrighted, and he isn’t lying (no fraud), it’s unclear where the initiation of force is if he shares it with the world. and if that’s not force, it’s hard to see how offering not to do it for money would be force.

it’s easy to see why this sort of thing is bad for society, at least in the sorts of scenarios typically associated with blackmail.

let’s consider an example. i see you in public with a woman. you kiss. i know you’re married. i don’t take any photos. i just witness it and then tell you that i’m going to (accurately and honestly) tell your wife unless you pay me $1000. if you pay once, i contractually agree to never use this again, even if I see you with that woman again. (i can ask for more money if i catch you with a different woman, though.)

i tried to keep it simple by having everything occur in public and avoiding photos/recordings. and i wouldn’t exaggerate to your wife, and you don’t think i would, so there isn’t an issue of fraud (tricking her, or you getting the impression that i’m threatening to say anything untrue or misleading to her).

damages ought to be big – much more than $1000 – if i tell your wife anyway or carelessly tell other people who spread the news. this can be a practical problem if i’m not wealthy enough to recover significant damages from. blackmailers are often hard to sue if they break contract. but in terms of principles, the contract excludes asking for additional payments or screwing you over anyway, and if i do that i’m now clearly guilty of initiating force.

why is this such a problem? because you’re doing something you don’t want your wife to know about. you’re lying to your wife and you want to get away with it. maybe we should blame you for the problematic situation, not me. if i keep my mouth shut, we still don’t get an OK situation. getting a good situation requires you changing your actions.

i think that’s a known idea. roughly: don’t do stuff that you could be blackmailed for.

in other words, if it’s worth $10,000 to you for no one to know you’re cheating on your wife, then don’t kiss other women in public, unless you don’t mind paying. (and if 50 people see you, and realize what’s going on, then you’re not going to be able to pay enough money to them all while staying under the limit of what the secret is worth to you; you’ll just have to accept you’re caught).

what’s hard about avoiding blackmailable actions?

there are lots of reasonable choices which society disapproves of. desire for privacy is often ok. this can happen even if you don’t lie to anyone. a simple example is you’re gay and don’t want people to know, though that generally involves some lying.

some things look bad but are ok if explained. but if the public is told, you won’t get a chance to immediately explain to everyone as soon as they get the info. e.g. maybe there is a photo of you with a young child. people might believe you’re a pedophile when actually you’re volunteering for the Big Brother charity. the photo is misleading because you were roleplaying an abduction scenario to help educate him. the photographer doesn’t even known, but instead of telling the public he goes to ask you for money … wait that’s not ok, he shouldn’t be asking for money to help cover up what he believes to be a crime. so let’s make the scenario milder, you’re just hugging him … well either that’s innocent or evidence of a crime so from either pov he shouldn’t be asking you for money (either he thinks it was fine so what is his threat exactly … to mislead the public? – or he thinks it suggests a crime so he shouldn’t cover it up).

There’s no positive duty to report crimes, but getting into a financial relationship to hide a crime (or what you think may be a crime) sounds rightly illegal. That’s like being hired by the criminal as a sort of accomplice. Note: It’s still bad if you’re paid with favors (services) instead of money.

OK so I want a scenario where it’s merely embarrassing, so being paid to help you hide it is ok. And the person being blackmailed hasn’t lied to anyone or done anything that’s actually bad. So I misjudge you as being a friend and tell you about my BDSM sex with my wife which I don’t want the public to know about. I didn’t think you were contractually bound not to tell; I just thought you were nice. I haven’t lied to the public about my sex life; I’ve just kept it private.

So you say you’ll post it on your blog unless I give you $100. You’d be doing this for the sole purpose of hurting me. But it seems to be within your rights to post it. And if it is, what’s wrong with offering a trade where you don’t do it in exchange for $100?

Normally trade is value for value. It’s supposed to be mutual benefit. Refraining from hurting me isn’t a service in the usual sense.

We could try to compare it to: I offer my neighbors $100 not to play music this weekend (it’s fine with headphones, I just don’t want my party disrupted). So now i’m paying for them not to do something. Why? Well they often play music with speakers. It’s something they gain value from. I want them to give it up so I compensate them.

We can imagine the reverse scenario in two ways. First, the neighbors come to me and say “I heard you have a party this weekend. We know our music often annoys you. We’ll be quiet all weekend for $100 if you want. Otherwise we’ll act normally.” Now compare this to scenario 2: The neighbors are normally quiet, hear about the party, and come say they will be louder than usual, just to disrupt your party, unless you pay $100 for quiet.

I think this is important. Paying someone to change their usual behavior and refrain from something is fine. The source of that behavior was to live their own life, not to hurt you. But if they are threatening to do a behavior for the purpose of hurting you, not to improve their own life, then something bad is going on. This is kinda hard for law to deal with though – it’s hard for courts to judge they aren’t playing loud music as a new hobby or whatever – though it becomes easier to judge if they approach you with the threat to play loud music unless you pay.

The purpose of political rights is to enable you to live your own life and have a good life. It’s not intended to give you any right to hurt others for no benefit to yourself (or to threaten to do that in order to demand money).

So I should reexamine first principles. Basically I have a right to control my body and, by extension, my property. I have freedom to live my life. But I don’t get to interfere with others. Interfering with other people’s body or property is initiation of force. In some cases, it’s hard to tell what counts as interference. Light and sound from my activities on my land often find their way onto my neighbor’s land and could annoy him (or could leak information that I don’t want him to have – and my first guess is I should need to take only reasonable precautions, and if he buys super high tech spying equipment then he’s doing something wrong despite only using it on the physical particles on his property). Tradition and law have to deal with stuff like sharing rivers, noise pollution, adding a tall building on my property that could block the view from your house, ugly stuff on my property being visible from your property, etc.

Part of how we deal with these things is by good faith and good will, not just by strictly defining what is force. It’s too hard to get along purely by saying what is force or not. That’s not enough to build up a good society. You need people who want to get along and mostly try to avoid conflict. Blackmail violates that.

Since blackmail is unnecessary to pursuing positive values in your own life, and undermines and attacks social harmony, I think it’s reasonable to make it illegal. This may change in the future when everything in public is getting recorded and posted online automatically and you’ll just need to be more careful in public or figure out some other way to deal with the situation, but for now it’s good that people generally don’t have to be too scared while in public (or while on their own property but inadvertently sending quite a bit of information (information from a physics perspective) off their property because they lack adequate technology to control that).

I do think we should be very careful about legitimizing laws that go beyond prohibiting force (including fraud and threat). The main danger of additional laws is they can restrict people’s freedom to have a good life, which this one doesn’t because I think the defining feature of blackmail is threatening to do something that isn’t part of pursuing your own values, it’s something you’d do just to hurt others. Laws against malice and tricky and dangerous in general but this looks OK to me. Trade should be for mutual benefit, not for “i found a way to harm you that doesn’t count as force; pay me not to do it”.

But fundamentally rights have a positive purpose to enable a good life and to resolve conflicts peacefully. The fundamental thing isn’t to ban certain actions like force. That’s a means to an end. So if someone finds a way to hurt people that isn’t banned (and IRL it is banned, but it isn’t clearly banned by the non-aggression principle), that looks to me like finding a hole in the rules while going against the purpose of the rules. Whereas if I thought the NAP (non-aggression principle, aka don’t initiate force) was primary, then I might think “technically doesn’t violate NAP, therefore good”. But I don’t see the NAP as a source of values or morality itself, directly.

I do think this merits more thought and analysis. I’m not fully satisfied yet. But I might be done anyway. This isn’t my main field and I have other things to do. Now I’ll read the debate highlights and see if I have any reason to change my mind already.

Thoughts After Reading the Rest of the Post

Hanson says legalizing blackmail could reduce affairs. So I guess the positive value of blackmail, in some cases, is trying to clean up society. I want to out people who cheat on their spouses to make a better world. That’s part of pursuing my values.

But if that’s really what I want, I can just do it. I wouldn’t be like “pay me to let you keep cheating on your wife”. I’d just get the info and share it. I’d try to get paid by the tabloids or by people who also value cleaning up the sexual morals of society.

So Hanson’s first claim, under “What's good about blackmail”, hasn’t changed my mind/analysis.

Zvi Mowshowitz: I believe that most of the time, most people are not, when they seek information, primarily looking to harm someone. They're primarily looking to benefit themselves, or benefit their friends or their allies in some way. Hurting someone else is mostly a side effect.

Robin Hanson: That's also true with blackmail. The main effect is the money, not the hurt. Their main motivation is to get the compensation.

This part stood out to me because it’s similar to some stuff I was talking about. I think seeking out and publishing info to pursue your own values is fine, but I take issue with doing it in order to threaten to harm someone. If you really want the info because you value it, try to get paid by other people who value it, rather than getting paid to hide the info that you value being public.

At the end they poll the audience re changing their mind. What about me? My initial opinion was blackmail sounds bad but I’m not that sure because it’s not clear how it initiates force. My updated opinion is that, due to my own analysis, I’m more confident that blackmail should be (stay) illegal. But if it came up in my life I’d want to do more analysis before acting (unless I didn’t have time to analyze, in which case I’d view blackmailing as bad and e.g. refrain from blackmailing someone even if I had no fear of getting in legal trouble for doing it).


View this post at Less Wrong.


Elliot Temple on August 20, 2020

Messages (20)

While writing this I figured Ayn Rand would be anti-blackmail, while some libertarians might be in favor. I thought being pro-blackmail might be due to "rationalism" (in the specific sense Oism criticizes). I remembered e.g., from Atlas Shrugged (my emphasis on the exact phrase I clearly remembered):

> “Now,” said Galt, “do you see what I mean when I said that a zero can’t hold a mortgage over life? It’s I who’d have to grant you that kind of mortgage—and I don’t. The removal of a threat is not a payment, *the negation of a negative* is not a reward, the withdrawal of your armed hoodlums is not an incentive, the offer not to murder me is not a value.”


curi at 12:47 PM on August 20, 2020 | #17502 | reply | quote

#17502 Walter Block claims that blackmail shouldn't be illegal:

http://www.walterblock.com/wp-content/uploads/publications/crimeofblackmail.htm


oh my god it's turpentine at 1:50 PM on August 20, 2020 | #17503 | reply | quote

#17503

> Ken has free speech rights, including the right to speak falsely about another.

Block thinks that, prima facie, lying to the police (the example in question) to falsely accuse people of crimes is just free speech, not fraud!?


curi at 1:55 PM on August 20, 2020 | #17504 | reply | quote

#17503 Block says:

> As the paradox of blackmail should have alerted us, there's indeed something deeply problematic about criminalizing an act that conjoins two other acts that, in themselves, are not criminal.

What's actually going on with those two acts is that one act (asking for blackmail money) provides information about the motive for a different act (doing something to harm another person, not to pursue your own values), which helps reveal that the second act actually should be illegal.

The second act is not outlawed in general because motives vary, as in the party-disrupting music example. You're allowed to get music onto your neighbor's property in the course of your regular life and within some loudness limits, but it should be illegal to do it for the express purpose of harming your neighbor. It's normally quite hard to prove such things in court, but the blackmail demand goes a long way to showing what's going on. I suspect this is why blackmail is criminalized – it's a case where not only do we have extra evidence about something bad going on, but also the person is trying to exploit it. They're trying to be a leech or looter who lives off the productive work of others without offering value in return. He wants to have "trade" that is not for mutual benefit.

I suspect this is a good, typical example of why Rand dislikes libertarians and disagrees with their analysis. But I don't know offhand of Rand saying anything specifically about blackmail (though the AS quote in #17502 is pretty close).

curious if you disagree with this, turpentine?


curi at 2:02 PM on August 20, 2020 | #17505 | reply | quote

Robin Hanson LW replies

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/ajykDPoioWophNRkA/highlights-from-the-blackmail-debate-robin-hanson-vs-zvi?commentId=Lx6tG6R8cZDcm9L8R

> Your point #1 misses the whole norm violation element. The reason it hurts if others are told about an affair is that others disapprove. That isn't why loud music hurts.

point #1 refers to my comparing threatening to play loud music if not paid to blackmail.

I'm aware there's a difference in the mechanism of the harm. I thought the underlying issue (threatening to do something for the purpose of harming someone, not to pursue your own values) was the same. Hanson seems to have not understood my point and dealt with that by speculating that I didn't understand a more basic thing.

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/5ffPhqaLdrSajFe37/analyzing-blackmail-being-illegal-hanson-and-mowshowitz?commentId=W2s3mSCsi7bzZ2ppg

> You will allow harmful gossip, but not blackmail, because the first might be pursuing your "values", but the second is seeking to harm. Yet the second can have many motives, and is mostly commonly to get money. And you are focused too much on motives, rather than on outcomes.

I replied to this, which again I interpret as Hanson failing to understand me (plus, not in my reply, I think I did care about outcomes, e.g. a "trade" without mutual benefit or, in the alternative, a value-destroying action happening):

> many motives ... mostly commonly to get money

If I threaten to do X unless you pay me, then the motive for making that threat is getting money. However, I don't get money for doing X. There are separate things involved (threat and action) with different motives.


curi at 2:08 PM on August 20, 2020 | #17506 | reply | quote

#17506

http://www.walterblock.com/wp-content/uploads/publications/crimeofblackmail.htm

> Although standard instances of blackmail involve a threat to disclose damaging information if some monetary payment is not made, the range of possibilities is somewhat wider. Leo Katz, for example, suggests as alternative threats:

>> Pay me $10,000- or I will: cause some really bad blood at the next faculty meeting, . . . seduce your fiancé, . . . persuade your son that it is his patriotic duty to volunteer for combat in Vietnam, . . . give your high-spirited, risk-addicted 19-year-old daughter a motorcycle for Christmas, hasten our father's death by leaving the Catholic church. [5]

I think Block agrees with me (contrary to Hanson) that "pay me or i play music during your party" is the same sort of conceptual issue as blackmail, despite not being the standard conception of blackmail.


curi at 2:15 PM on August 20, 2020 | #17507 | reply | quote

reply from Viliam

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/5ffPhqaLdrSajFe37/analyzing-blackmail-being-illegal-hanson-and-mowshowitz?commentId=oRXpJ2HakAfr23p7p

> Seems to me that many people would intuitively support some generalization of NAP; something like: "don't actively do things that make situation worse".

> Which is of course quite nebulous. But that seems only quantitatively different from NAP, which also requires a definition of "aggression", which has clear boundaries when we talk about punching someone, but becomes less obvious when talking about theft, or copyright infringement, or slander.

> If I see you cheating on your wife, and I tell her, my intent is unknown -- maybe I just wanted to hurt you, or maybe I deeply care about the sacred institution of marriage. (And we should charitably assume good intent.) But if I ask you to pay me $100, obviously the latter was not my motivation.

Seems to me like he understood one of my main points, unlike Hanson.


curi at 2:45 PM on August 20, 2020 | #17509 | reply | quote

#17504 I think Bob saying something false to the police about Peter to get Peter in legal trouble is more like hiring a gang of thugs to beat the living shit out of Peter and destroy his stuff than it is like fraud.


oh my god it's turpentine at 2:51 PM on August 20, 2020 | #17510 | reply | quote

Objectivists, libertarians and some others commonly classify actions into 3 broad categories:

1. trade (for mutual expected benefit)

2. leaving each other alone

3. force

Which one does blackmail fall under? Or is there a 4th category? Or one could reject these categories.

I think Block would claim that blackmail is trade. I don't agree. I think trade is done to gain a positive value. Part of the meaning of trade is that you can decline. If leaving each other alone would be better for you than trading, you should have that option. Choosing to leave each other alone means the person doesn't provide positive values to you, but also doesn't harm you.

I don't think blackmail constitutes leaving each other alone, either. The core principle of leaving each other alone is we each live our own life and pursue our own values. Blackmail isn't about pursuing your own values independently (or by trade with others).

It's fine if, in the regular course of living my life, there are some negative externalities for you. It's not fine if I start creating negative externalities with the goal of hurting you, nor the goal of asking you to pay me to stop. E.g. it's fine to play music because I like it, but not fine to play it to disrupt your party.

I think blackmail is just a particular case of a broader bad thing (actions designed to harm others), where the broad category is hard to criminalize (hard to prove intent and damages in court), but the specific case (blackmail) is much easier to handle in court. Asking for payment does a lot to reveal what's going on.

I don't think the law can ever cover every form of bad behavior, nor should it. But blackmail and extortion are specific enough categories that we can criminalize them and people can predict in advance what actions would make them guilty or not, and the courts can judge whether it happened or not. And criminalizing them doesn't restrict the freedom to pursue positive values in your life.


curi at 2:53 PM on August 20, 2020 | #17511 | reply | quote

#17510 Sure :(

How does Block see it as neither fraud nor like convincing a gang of thugs to attack someone for you? I don't understand his pov. I figure he's anti-fraud in general as well as pretty willing to view the police as armed thugs.


curi at 2:55 PM on August 20, 2020 | #17512 | reply | quote

#17505 I agree that blackmail should not be legal and that your argument explains why. I don't know what the current penalties are for it, but my guess is that it's the sort of thing that should be dealt with by compensation rather than a prison sentence.


oh my god it's turpentine at 2:58 PM on August 20, 2020 | #17513 | reply | quote

#17513 Compensation sounds fine in general. Prison might be better for major patterns, e.g. 20+ blackmails.

I think there's a general issue in our society where sometimes people do illegal stuff, pay fines, and keep doing it. And we don't do a good enough job of escalating penalties to get them to actually try to stop breaking the law.

In the alternative, having compensation be high enough to *actually* make the victim 100% whole might work. I view this as unrealistic in our current society. Normally compensation doesn't fully compensate people for the headache of dealing with it. I think most people who get compensation from courts would rather not have gone through the whole experience at all, showing the payment isn't enough to make them indifferent to the two scenarios (never happened, or happened + payment). There are exceptions, notably when some people get huge paydays, which are also bad (if you prefer it happened + payment over never happened, then you're being overpaid).


curi at 3:04 PM on August 20, 2020 | #17514 | reply | quote

https://walterblock.liberty.me/a-libertarian-analysis-of-suing-for-libel/

Block says libertarians can't sue for libel in general, but it's ok for him to sue the NYT for libel because they are criminal ruling class members, so you're permitted to use force against them (with e.g. guns or libel suits).


curi at 3:18 PM on August 20, 2020 | #17515 | reply | quote

#17512 I think Block regards private property as the foundation of liberty:

> If the non-aggression axiom is the basic building block of libertarianism, private property rights based on (Lockean and Rothbardian) homesteading principles are the foundation.

https://www.lewrockwell.com/2003/02/walter-e-block/turning-their-coats-for-the-state/

So he is trying to exclude any act that isn't an attack on your body or property from being illegal.


oh my god it's turpentine at 3:19 PM on August 20, 2020 | #17516 | reply | quote

Walter Block writes:

https://walterblock.liberty.me/a-libertarian-analysis-of-suing-for-libel/

> Hans-Hermann Hoppe (1990), as per usual, is brilliant in his analysis of the ruling class from the libertarian perspective. He avers: “One can acquire and increase wealth either through homesteading, producing, saving, or contracting, or by expropriating homesteaders, producers, savers, or contractors. There are no other ways.

Which one does Block think blackmail is? Homesteading, producing, saving or contracting? Or does he think it doesn't increase wealth but is fine anyway?

I guess contracting? But where is the wealth creation?


curi at 3:52 PM on August 20, 2020 | #17519 | reply | quote

Here's another example/comparison:

Is dialing a wrong number force? No.

Is it force to dial a specific person's number on purpose, and hang up, or pretend it was a wrong number, when they answer? Yes.

Is it threat of force to say "Give me $5 or I will make a wrong number call to you to waste your time."? Yes.

Motive matters. You can call someone by accident and waste their time, but you can't call them for the purpose of wasting their time, nor threaten to.

If you call someone and pretend it was a wrong number, when secretly you wanted to waste their time, will you get caught? Probably not unless e.g. you email your friend and then he turns you in. It's hard to prove intent in court.

But what if you threaten to do it unless you're paid? Then the malicious intent is provable in court.


curi at 4:13 PM on August 20, 2020 | #17522 | reply | quote

> #17503 Block says:

>> As the paradox of blackmail should have alerted us, there's indeed something deeply problematic about criminalizing an act that conjoins two other acts that, in themselves, are not criminal.

> What's actually going on with those two acts is that one act (asking for blackmail money) provides information about the motive for a different act (doing something to harm another person, not to pursue your own values), which helps reveal that the second act actually should be illegal.

> The second act is not outlawed in general because motives vary, as in the party-disrupting music example. You're allowed to get music onto your neighbor's property in the course of your regular life and within some loudness limits, but it should be illegal to do it for the express purpose of harming your neighbor. It's normally quite hard to prove such things in court, but the blackmail demand goes a long way to showing what's going on. I suspect this is why blackmail is criminalized – it's a case where not only do we have extra evidence about something bad going on, but also the person is trying to exploit it. They're trying to be a leech or looter who lives off the productive work of others without offering value in return. He wants to have "trade" that is not for mutual benefit.

I wonder if there is a connection between what curi says here and doxxing. Publishing someone's address or other personal information is not a criminal act. There are databases that publish people's personal information that you can find online, and there are legitimate, lawful purposes for maintaining and for using such a database.

OTOH, publishing someone's personal information in a context that makes clear that your goal is to incite harassment or harm of the person is doxxing and should be considered criminal activity.

Often there is much more plausible deniability in a doxxing case than in a case of blackmail, so that can be an additional complication for doxxing. But it seems like some of the relevant principles may apply/overlap in the two cases.


Justin Mallone at 11:39 AM on August 22, 2020 | #17564 | reply | quote

> Publishing someone's address or other personal information is not a criminal act.

Doxing is initiation of force when it constitutes a threat or when it constitutes a joint project with people who use some other type of force.

This (force due to threat or joint project) is typical of the stuff that people call doxing, as against e.g. contact info databases.

> I wonder if there is a connection between what curi says here and doxxing.

I think so. You could ask for $1000 to not publish someone's address. But by asking, you show you were only gonna publish it out of malice, not as part of the regular pursuit of values in your own life.

If you don't ask for the money then ... well you'll still have to explain how you were publishing my address in order to pursue positive values in your own life. Prima facie that's bullshit.

If you publish my affair, you can say you were pursuing your value of a sexually virtuous society created by the means of social disapproval of cheaters. But if you publish my address because you disagree with my ideas, that action isn't trying to create social disapproval or stimulate a debate or anything ... what legitimate purpose is the address for? Looks like it's there to punish me by scaring me b/c there is a threat of IRL force. Or conceivably doxing could be to threaten or cause IRL actions that debatably aren't force, like playing loud music on the public sidewalk outside my home ... which, as my article talks about, I think is not OK if you're doing that for the express purpose of fucking with me (rather than it being a side effect of living your own life).


curi at 11:55 AM on August 22, 2020 | #17565 | reply | quote

below is something I wrote working through the problem of whether/how a situation related to blackmail. I think I agree with the logic in OP. I don't think I discovered anything new.

---

I read this today and am thinking about some of the arguments in the context of a situation I'm not sure how to deal with.

I'm having a teacher-student type discussion with someone (I'm on the teacher side). The topic was initially about how we feel about mistakes (one reaction being shame/embarrassment).

my goals are roughly:

* help them

* practice applying stuff I've learnt, re-expressing it in new ways, etc

* practice my ability to explain/persuade/teach sort of thing

I asked part-way through whether I could make public an anonymised log of the discussion. They asked 'why' and I said 'so I can ask for feedback'. We discussed a bit more but I didn't push it and am not making it public.

The connection to blackmail:

A thought which occurs to me is: why should I spend effort on this person instead of someone else who would let me make logs public?

How is telling the person this idea / incentive similar to blackmail? Does it count as blackmail?

It's similar b/c one of the implications is "if you don't let me make future logs public I'm not going to bother talking to you anymore", i.e. do X (which you don't want to do) or I'll do Y (which you don't want me to do).

I think the normal framing of it is different to blackmail: "I want Y, you want X, I'm going to do Y if the opportunity arises and I think it'd be mutually incompatible with X"

Another difference is being open to new ideas: if we came up with some alternative that could satisfy both our goals then we'd be happy to adopt that. so we solve the 'mutually incompatible' part -- there's no way to do much of that with blackmail b/c the outcome is determined by one party. you might be able to negotiate a bit but the perp wants a payday.

In my case there's a genuine *conflict* between X and Y, in that the reasons people want them are genuine in the sense of living their own life; the trade was mutually beneficial before but might not be in future. That's not blackmail, it's more like "my budget is X, so if you don't reduce the price of this TV I'm going to go to the other guy", which is just normal negotiation stuff framed in a more hostile way.

Is a past/future distinction important? How?

In the chat log example, the person has the option to not do something in future (participate in the chat) if they don't want it to be public. There's no contractual agreement or changing the goal posts in that sense. Furthermore a discussion like this needs 2 consenting adults; removing consent isn't an initiation of force (unlike playing loud music to annoy/disrupt someone). In the music example it's like 'I will *start* doing X unless you do Y'. You could make anything a *stop* instead of *start*, though, like 'I'll stop withholding these photos of you kissing someone unless ...'. We can resolve this through *intent*, for future stuff, "is it something you'd do in the normal course of your life?" Note: all things are future things, even if they're about information that was learning/captured in the past.

So what it seems like is:

Some situations where there's a conflict in people's goals (s.t. maybe they'd stop doing something) can look sort of like blackmail, but they're categorically different b/c of intent and consent.

Re consent: what if I was keeping someone alive with CPR and threatened to stop unless they paid me? I have no obligation to keep going. (aside: just legally or morally too?) It would be immoral of me to then prevent anyone else helping if I stopped, or to stop in such a way that made it more likely the person would die despite others being in a position to immediately help. I *think* there might be an obligation to reasonably keep going via DD's moral criterion conjecture (prevent destructions of means of correcting mistakes), particularly w/ something like a blue-ringed octopus sting (where hours of CPR/life-support are required b/c the victim is paralysed but alive). A reason to stop would be if my life was threatened (e.g. being in a cave that was filling with water as the tide rose).

Is there a situation where it'd be okay to offer someone a money-for-CPR arrangement? We don't want a situation where saving someone's life means owning all their stuff. I can't think of a case where it's okay.

It occurs to me that feelings of *entitlement* might make someone miscatagorise withdrawal of consent as initiation of force; like if the student thought they were entitled to the conversation. That's a separate problem, though.


Max at 1:52 PM on August 22, 2020 | #17566 | reply | quote

> A thought which occurs to me is: why should I spend effort on this person instead of someone else who would let me make logs public?

sounds reasonable

> How is telling the person this idea / incentive similar to blackmail? Does it count as blackmail?

if you bring it up with them, i suggest saying it would only apply going forward. no matter what they say, old logs stay private. but you only want to continue if logs can be public. i think that's ok. it's just trying to get a positive value for yourself. the only "threat" involved is to withdraw help (leave the guy alone, not hurt him).

if you pressured him into letting you share old logs then you could actually hurt him.

you could also potentially hurt him if he had reason to expect ongoing help in the future which you're now taking away (or demanding public sharing to not take it away). like if you had made some kind of stated or implied commitment, taken on an obligation, etc. or if there's an ongoing relationship which would be at greater risk if he doesn't wanna allow public logs, that could again pressure him, and it isn't what he signed up for originally, but otoh things change.


curi at 3:29 PM on August 22, 2020 | #17569 | reply | quote

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